Both Claire and her husband, M. d’Albe, are virtuous and upstanding, and Frédéric, her husband’s nineteen-year-old adopted son and factory assistant, is honest and noble-hearted. But in the beautiful and secluded Loire Valley, the friendship between Claire and Frédéric gradually develops into a forbidden passion.
Claire d’Albe (1799) was audacious in its day for its representation of adulterous love as a positive act of self-fulfillment. As the volume editor, Margaret Cohen, indicates, Sophie Cottin’s best-selling work of sentimentalism highlights the tension in Enlightenment liberalism between collective welfare and personal happiness. Although such later French authors as Stendhal and Balzac denigrated sentimentalism along with female novelists, Claire d’Albe influenced their realist aesthetics.